King’s Speech Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Monday 13th November 2023

(8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Portrait Lord McInnes of Kilwinning
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That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of your Lordships’ House, I thank the King for delivering the gracious Speech. I am grateful for the privilege of opening today’s debate on the Motion for an humble Address.

Today, I shall outline the Government’s plans to grow the economy, to secure our energy supply for the long term, to deliver a world-class transport network for the whole of the UK, and to protect our environment. My noble friend Lady Penn will close what I am sure will be yet another spirited debate, with many important contributions from all parts of the House. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present the Autumn Statement to Parliament on 22 November. Your Lordships will be unsurprised to know that I will not pre-empt any of his announcements or the OBR’s forecast but will focus on the Government’s recent record on the economy.

Despite enormous global challenges, the UK is proving the doubters wrong. The Government have made difficult long-term decisions to restore stability and grow the economy. The best tax cut for the UK public is indeed a cut in inflation. Inflation has already fallen to 6.7% since peaking at 11.1%, and most major forecasters agree that we are on track to meet our goal of halving inflation by the end of the year, before returning it to 2% by 2025. This will enable us to create better-paid jobs and opportunities across the whole of our United Kingdom, guaranteeing a better future for the next generation.

To deliver that growth, we are creating the right environment for businesses to invest and expand. We have announced a £27 billion tax cut for business, and the UK now has the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7, as well as one of the most generous capital allowance regimes in the whole of the OECD. Our labour market reforms will also add 110,000 people to the workforce, and our extended 30 hours free childcare reforms will help to support even more people into the workplace.

At the same time, we remain on track to reduce the national debt. The independent OBR confirmed in March that debt will be falling by the end of the forecast. Reducing debt provides the essential foundations for sustainable growth, as it reduces spending on debt interest that could otherwise support essential public services. It also allows the Government space to respond to future shocks and reduces the financial pressure passed on to our children and grandchildren.

We recognise the immense challenges that British people have been facing with the cost of living. Putin’s war in Ukraine caused global economic disruption and unleashed huge energy price increases, leading to pressures on living standards. We have taken significant action over the past year to give struggling families the support they desperately need. We stepped in last winter to protect communities and businesses, spending £40 billion to help pay half the average household energy bill. Although energy prices have been steadily coming down since, we are continuing to offer support, with a £900 cost of living payment going to those on means-tested benefits. Taken together, our support to households to help with higher bills is worth £94 billion, or £3,300 per household on average, across 2022-23 and 2023-24—one of the largest household support packages in the whole of Europe.

We cannot thrive as a country without affordable, reliable and abundant energy. As we steadily transition to a net-zero economy, this Government recognise the huge role that home-produced renewables and nuclear power will play, alongside North Sea oil and gas. Our commitment to investing in the UK’s energy infrastructure will help to unlock private investment, scaling up green jobs and growth across the country.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will make the UK more energy independent by increasing investor and industry confidence with regular oil and gas licensing. The Bill’s emissions tests will ensure that future licensing supports our transition to net zero. It will enhance the UK’s energy security and reduce dependence on imports with higher emissions intensity. It will protect our domestic oil and gas industry, which supports more than 200,000 jobs, as we grow the UK economy and realise our net-zero target in a proportionate and realistic way.

This country has led the world on tackling carbon emissions, and we will continue to do so. Of all the major economies, we have set the deepest cuts in emissions for 2030, and we have so far exceeded all our targets, including cutting our emissions by almost half over the past 30 years and boosting our share of renewables from 7% in 2010 to over 40% today. To realise our ambitions, we have to take a pragmatic approach, taking consumers and industry with us; we cannot impose unaffordable, extra costs on households, particularly when millions of families are struggling with the cost of living.

By that same token, we are working with Ofgem and suppliers to reform markets so that they work for consumers more effectively and are fit for the future. I outlined a few moments ago the immediate support being offered directly to households by the Government, but we also want to ensure that customers get the service they deserve and that vulnerable customers are prioritised and protected.

We also want a fair approach to decarbonising how we heat our homes. We are already investing £12 billion in energy efficiency and clean heat this Parliament, and we have seen the share of homes in the highest energy efficiency bands rise from 14% in 2010 to around 50% today. We recognise that we need to support people to make these changes, so, in addition to financial support, we are giving people more time and support to make the necessary changes in their own homes.

Our energy transition plans have enormous potential to deliver economic prosperity across the country, as well as the security that comes from being able to power Britain from Britain. Green investment is a top priority, and we are doubling down on sectors with the greatest opportunities, such as carbon capture and storage, offshore wind, and solar and fusion energy.

Britain’s nuclear revival is well under way too, with Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C set to power 12 million homes. We have launched Great British Nuclear to deliver our pipeline of resilient projects, while accelerating the development of small modular reactors.

However, despite the billions being invested in new energy projects, we do not yet have the grid infrastructure to bring that energy to households and businesses. So we are building new transmission infrastructure and speeding up connections to the grid. We will set out the UK’s first ever spatial plan for infrastructure to give industry more certainty, and we will fast-track plans for the most nationally significant projects.

I move on to transport. Responsible government is about making the tough, long-term decisions to secure a brighter future. It is why we have scaled back our plans for HS2—a project that saw its costs double, its business case weaken and its completion date repeatedly delayed. Rather than focus on a rail line between Birmingham and Manchester, we are prioritising the millions of everyday journeys that matter most to the British public.

By stopping HS2 in the West Midlands, we will reinvest every penny of the £36 billion saved into better bus services, faster regional train links, new road schemes and pothole-free streets. Network North will see more places and more people benefit more quickly, thanks to the choices that we have made.

Now, with work already under way, we will complete HS2 between Euston and Birmingham. It remains a ground-breaking infrastructure project—indeed, one of the biggest in the country. Talks are already under way on the huge regeneration opportunity at Euston, which could potentially see 10,000 homes built.

While the packed parliamentary timetable has prevented us from introducing legislation in this Session, we will bring forward the rail reform Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, alongside the benefits that we are already delivering in areas such as ticketing, private sector innovation and better contracts for operators.

Moving away from rail, the Government have been clear that the war on motorists must end. For many, cars are a lifeline, not a luxury. Yet, across the country, drivers face overzealous enforcement measures and a variety of restrictions which clearly do not have public support. In our capital, thanks to the newly expanded ULEZ scheme, hard-working families must now decide to either pay up or sell up. The Government are on the side of motorists, and the 30 measures in our Plan for Drivers will ensure that people can travel where, when and how they wish.

Looking to the future, we remain committed to seeing more zero-emission vehicles on Britain’s roads. However, that transition should be proportionate and, wherever possible, we should ease the burden on working families. That is why we have extended the period in which you can buy new petrol and diesel cars by five years, ensuring more time for zero-emission vehicle prices to fall and the used market to grow. However, our overall ambition remains the same. We will ban the sale of new polluting vehicles by 2035 and, to give manufacturers certainty, our zero-emission vehicle mandate, which kicks in from next year, will set minimum targets for clean car production.

Automated vehicles will also be part of our future. We want to position Britain as the global leader of a sector that could be worth up to £42 billion by 2035, with 38,000 jobs at stake. So, in this parliamentary Session, we will bring forward the Automated Vehicles Bill, enabling the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles.

We will also—I know this will have particular support in this House—bring London’s pedicabs under the letter of the law.The Pedicabs (London) Bill will give Transport for London powers to regulate the city’s pedicab industry, reassuring passengers and road users that those vehicles and operators are properly licensed and accountable.

I move on to discuss the environment. The Government are committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it. On 31 January 2023, Defra published a revised Environmental Improvement Plan. This sets out how we will deliver our long-term Environment Act targets, matched with interim targets to measure progress over the shorter term.

With respect to air quality, in addition to our existing emissions and concentrations targets we have set two new targets for fine particulate matter, the pollutant most damaging to human health, under the Environment Act 2021. We are also enhancing protected landscape management plans through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act and are placing a stronger requirement on partners to contribute to their delivery.

On green finance, we published a cross-government green finance strategy and a nature markets framework in March 2023, setting out the action we are taking to support a transition to a net-zero, climate-resilient, nature-positive economy. On climate change, Defra published the Third National Adaptation Programme in July this year. This sets out a programme of action for the next five years to respond to a range of climate risks facing the United Kingdom.

I am also delighted that we are introducing the animal welfare (livestock exports) Bill to Parliament. Animal welfare is a priority for the Government, and we have some of the highest standards in the world. Thanks to our actions, the UK is building on our reputation as a world leader on animal welfare: we are joint top of World Animal Protection’s animal protection index.

Since the publication of Our Action Plan for Animal Welfare in 2021, we have delivered on a range of key manifesto commitments. We have increased the penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty, passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 and launched the Animal Sentience Committee. We have made cat microchipping compulsory and have announced the extension of the Ivory Act 2018 to cover five endangered species: hippopotamus, narwhal, killer whale, sperm whale and walrus.

Now that we have left the European Union, we can fulfil our manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening. The animal welfare (livestock exports) Bill will ban the export from Great Britain of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and horses for slaughter and fattening, stopping the unnecessary stress, exhaustion and injury caused by the export of live animals.

This Government have extensive and comprehensive plans to deliver a strong economy, a secure energy supply, a state-of-the-art transport sector and a safeguarded environment, laying the foundations for a more secure, resilient and prosperous country.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gascoigne, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on their maiden speeches in today’s wide-ranging debate. I am very pleased that there is another advocate for the north of England, so I offer the noble Lord the warmest welcome to the House. As someone who also feels passionately about our environment, I warmly welcome the commitment to it of the right reverend Prelate. I look forward to further contributions from them both.

My noble friend Lord Livermore clearly laid out our concerns about the current state of the economy, which have been reiterated by many noble Lords in today’s debate, including my noble friends Lady Drake, Lady Liddell, Lord Mandelson, Lord Sikka, Lord Hain, Lord McNicol, Lord Liddle and so on. My noble friend Lord Livermore spelled out Labour’s very different approach to turning around the economy and tackling the cost of living crisis, so I will concentrate my remarks on other aspects of the debate.

We are just weeks away from the UN climate summit, COP 28. With this in mind— and considering that the Government have time and again spoken up about their green credentials—the opportunity to use the King’s Speech to set out a clear vision for a greener future has been squandered. Instead, with one of the lightest legislative programmes in a decade, the Government have missed a vital opportunity to set out a positive agenda that delivers for people and the planet. Vague commitments to “lead action on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, to support developing countries with their energy transition and hold other countries to account on their environmental commitments” are simply not good enough. It seems a little bit rich of the Government to pronounce that they will hold other Governments to account on environmental commitments when they are not exactly managing their own terribly well.

As we have heard today, there are huge health impacts from climate change and biodiversity loss. Does the Minister not agree with the WHO that:

“Further delay in tackling climate change will increase health risks, undermine decades of improvements in global health, and contravene our collective commitments to ensure the human right to health for all”?

My noble friend Lord Davies mentioned the lack of a mental health Bill—another thing missing in our approach to health.

The King’s Speech is a missed opportunity for nature’s recovery. Some noble Lords talked about peatlands, which are our largest natural carbon stores. They help to reduce flood risk, produce clean water and provide homes for many important species. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned this in much more detail and the fact that the Government are still to ban retail sales of peat-based compost, as they promised to do by 2024.

We also heard about some of the direct and indirect impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, for example, talked about the need to ensure that the impact on the environment is considered right across our political agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and my noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick talked about flooding and the lack of action on flooding. In government, Labour would set up a flood resilience task force to make sure there is better co-ordination between national and local government in emergency services and to give communities and local economies far better protection against flood damage. We would also appoint a Minister for Resilience within the Cabinet Office and overhaul local resilience forums, so that they are more ready to respond to emergencies such as floods.

Air quality was mentioned by a number of noble Lords. We know about the impact on health of poor air quality, and the Government simply do not have ambition on this. Food and farming, higher temperatures, changing rain patterns and extreme weather—all affect global food security. The United Kingdom Food Security Report 2021 says that climate and biodiversity loss are significant risks to domestic food production. With half of UK food imported from overseas, worsening climate impacts could lead to food shortages and price rises, which we have already been seeing. What exactly is the Government’s plan to tackle this?

We also know of indirect impacts from the current situation on climate change and our economy, such as increased poverty, migration and intensified inequalities. My noble friend Lord Hendy talked about this, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.

My noble friend Lord Whitty pointed out that there is nothing about water in the Speech. Nothing more graphically illustrates the 13 years of failed Conservative government than the tide of raw sewage that today spills down our rivers and into our lakes and washes up on our beaches. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, spoke about this and the failure of our regulators to do something to tackle it. The Government must take responsibility for cutting back on the enforcement and monitoring of water companies and for the poor rate of prosecutions when the law is blatantly broken.

We believe that the regulatory framework is simply not working effectively and needs changing. We would ensure that the polluter pays by expanding Ofwat’s powers to ban the payment of bonuses to water bosses until they have cleaned up their filth. We would make law-breaking bosses personally and criminally liable for their crimes, we would make monitoring of every water outlet compulsory and we would introduce automatic, instant severe fines for every illegal sewage dump.

Energy has been much discussed in this debate. A number of noble Lords talked about the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. For example, my noble friend Lady Liddell clearly laid out Labour’s position on this, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, drew attention to the tax incentives that favour fossil fuels over renewables and my noble friend Lady Whitaker spoke of the need to move away from fossil fuels. We need an energy policy that delivers clean power, increases Britain’s energy independence and reduces our reliance on oil and gas derived from the North Sea. The importance of investment in nuclear was mentioned, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield.

However, as my noble friend Lady Blake said, it is hugely concerning that clean energy generation and security have not been a priority. Instead, we have recently seen a number of announcements that instead delay important net-zero policies. Unfortunately, it still seems easier to get permission from the Government to build a new coal mine rather than build the renewable energy that we so desperately need. Although the Speech included broad commitments to seek to attract record levels of investment in renewable energy sources and to reform grid connections, we need specific policies to be set out in the Autumn Statement at the end of November so that we know what this actually means. Can the Minister confirm that we will have more detail shortly?

As we have heard, the problem facing the UK is not just one of energy supply but one of energy affordability. Energy bills are still rising. My noble friend Lord Lennie spoke about energy security and the high cost to consumers, and the lack of action and ambition on this. We now know that an estimated 6 million households are in fuel poverty. The King’s Speech offers no hope to families living in poverty, struggling to heat their homes this winter.

There were also a number of expected Bills that simply did not make an appearance. My noble friend Lord Livermore mentioned a number of these, so I wonder whether the Minister knows if we are likely to see them at all in the near future. One example is the expected transport Bill, which a number of noble Lords mentioned. In December 2022, the Transport Secretary. Mark Harper, told the House of Commons Transport Committee that, due to a lack of parliamentary time, the Government had not been able to put it forward just yet but that some of the measures might well be included in the 2023 King’s Speech. What exactly has happened to these promised regulations?

The Speech did not include measures to limit the powers of local authorities to make it more difficult to introduce policies such as ultra-low emission zones or 20 mph speed limits. Have the Government changed their mind on this?

A number of noble Lords also referred to HS2, including the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and my noble friends Lord Grocott and Lord Berkeley. How will the rail reform Bill tackle the big issue of capacity now that the Government have cancelled HS2 north of Birmingham, without any sign of any suitable alternatives? Rail infrastructure is vital for economic growth, connectivity and investment, as we have heard. We have heard about the Network North proposals and promises, particularly from my noble friend Lord Grocott. We also heard more broadly from my noble friend Lord Faulkner about the need for proper rail infrastructure in this country, and my noble friend Lord Jones talked about the importance of funding investment for Welsh rail. The north really needs a rail Bill that delivers, so what guarantees can the Minister give me on this?

Finally, let us end on a positive note on animal welfare. I am sure noble Lords who know me will not be at all surprised to hear how absolutely delighted I am with the inclusion of a Bill to end the live export of animals. However, despite the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, saying that animal welfare is a priority for the Government, my welcome is tinged with a touch of cynicism after what happened to animal welfare announcements in previous Queen’s Speeches.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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King’s Speech.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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The kept animals Bill and the animals abroad Bill were in Queen’s Speeches. What has happened to the promised bans on the importation of fur and foie gras, for example? What will happen with the trophy hunting import Bill that just collapsed? How can the Minister guarantee that the Government will actually deliver the promised legislation this time, and what is happening about the outstanding pledges?

It is a bit depressing that this legislative programme is the best the Government could come up with. I gently suggest to them that it is, in fact, time for a change.